The individual with the eloquent features is Šarūnas Jasikevičius, coach to the Lithuanian basketball team Žalgiris. Attending an Istanbul, Turkey press conference during the EuroLeague semi-finals, he fielded a question about the team’s twenty-five-year-old center, Augusto Lima. The player had just departed the crucial competition to attend the birth of his child; the reporter wanted to know more about it. Presumably, some find the exchange moderately shocking: it’s broadcast is drawing lots of attention, making the rounds on the internet.
“What do I think about [Lima’s leaving]?” Jasikevičius replied, seeming almost stunned. “I allowed him to go.”
“But is it normal for a player to leave the team during the semifinals?” the reporter continued …
“Do you have kids?” [Jasikevičius] promptly asked. “When you gonna have kids, youngster, you’ll understand … Because that’s the height of a human experience” … the coach continued, still seeming bemused. “Do you think basketball is the most important thing in life?”
His message remained lost on the reporter … “No, but a semifinal is important.”
“Semifinal?” … “To whom is it important?”
“The team,” countered the reporter …
“When you see your first child, you will understand what the most important thing in life is,” [Jasikevičius] explained. “Come and have a chat with me then … Because nothing can be more majestic in the world than the birth of a child … Believe me, not titles, not anything else.”
The forty-one-year-old former professional basketball player medaled (bronze) at the 2000 Olympic games, participated in college ball (University of Maryland) and did a brief NBA stint. But his priorities? Professedly, not his athletic feats. Something far more substantial and enduring.
And Jasikevičius — as his insistent tone and demeanor make unmistakable — was determined to stress that point at the Istanbul presser: “Augusto Lima is now in heaven emotionally … I’m really happy for him.”
Evidently, the coach needed to reiterate. His media interlocutor seemed to be having a tough time getting a handle on the coach’s POV. That’s common enough, maybe especially nowadays, among folks confronted with unexpected and uncomfortable insights that overthrow more conventional wisdom.
Fascinatingly, Jasikevičius’ mother made a comparable choice decades ago, electively forgoing the opportunity to snatch Olympic stardom with the Soviet Union’s 1976 handball squad. Her reason? The birth of her son – Šarūnas.
As a father, the now-adult Jasikevičius plainly imbibes his mom’s commendable hierarchy of priorities. What’s the Lithuanian translation for: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”?
In a pair of tweets, Augusto Lima, the newly ebullient daddy of a daughter, mirrored his skipper’s perspective and added a note of thanks to him, as well:
[ Translated:] Thank you God for bringing us Alta … for giving me the happiest day in the world … for letting me live that feeling of being a father. An indescribable feeling to express with words … undoubtedly the best gift of my life … There are people and people, coaches and trainers, but this man [Jasikevičius] is very large inside and off the basketball court.
Meantime, a couple weeks later and half-a-world away, another glittering, sport’s-world example of someone who recognizes the pricelessness of fatherhood:
One headline read: “Phil MIckelson Says He’ll Skip US Open: His Daughter’s Graduation is the Reason”.
Golf pro Mickelson, in the midst of the PGA Grand Slam tour, has astonished multitudes. Although having taken top spot in three of the four tournaments which comprise the “Grand Slam”, the U.S. Open trophy has eluded him thus far (he’s placed as runner-up half-a-dozen times) — and it appears that won’t be changing this year either. The forty-seven-year-old Hall-of-Famer and father of three will be physically absent from the competition, opting instead for a milestone in his first-born’s pilgrimage scheduled the same day as the Open’s first round.
Victory would have made him just the sixth man in golf history to win all four majors, but …
[f]amily takes precedence for the five-time major winner, who will instead attend the graduation ceremony of his daughter, Amanda.
Mickelson’s explanation? “[T]here’s just really no way to make it, no matter what the tee time is. As I look back on life, this [graduation] is a moment I’ll always cherish and be glad I was present.”
Feedback from some of the game’s experts? International Journal Review relays a sampling:
From “Jon Sens, a contributor to Golf.com … ‘Very [surprised], given the hole in his career grand slam resume. I’ve already received a number of emails from friends saying, “There’s got to be more to this story.” Such are the times we live in.’ ”
Hoo-boy. A grievous revelation on the state of modern society. Happily, and to his credit, Sens rebounds: “I’m going to take a break from the cynicism of our age and take this as the word of a guy who just really wants to be there with his daughter. Good for him.”
Golf producer Josh Berhow echoes Sens’ initial reaction:
“I was extremely surprised by his decision, as I think most were. Phil is a huge storyline every major, and especially when it comes to our national championship.” But … “I think this will just make the galleries appreciate him more. ‘He skips golf to do dad things, too!’ ”
I’ll pinch that last remark as a prayer and add my “Amen” to it. Wouldn’t it be heartening if the general public — on Father’s Day weekend no less — heralded the golf champ for putting his “fatherhood” ahead of his legacy on the links?
Some commentary from veteran caddie John Wood, who apparently wasn’t taken aback by Mickelson’s move, handily ties it all together: “Not surprised at all. Phil has always put his family first, and although I’m sure he would dearly love to win a U.S. Open, he gets one chance to watch his oldest daughter graduate and give a speech at the ceremony, and he is not going to miss it. It’s a sacrifice his daughter will never forget.”
Yep, being a dad ought to include those moments of fulfillment, of uncontainable elation. Still, there will be costly junctures, as well; self-abnegation required. It all goes with any experience of “fathering” worth the term.
Thumbs up to a couple of jocks for reaffirming that fundamental before a planet desperately needing it; reminding us why dads are indispensable; and why we must keep celebrating their day.
Image: Screen shot: Šarūnas Jasikevičius: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyLO3els0Zc